Birth of the Charger
There have been a number of vehicles bearing the
Charger nameplate, but the name has generally denoted a performance model in the Dodge range. The 1966 to 1974 Chargers were the high performance B-body models. The 1975 to 1978 Chargers were based on the Chrysler Cordoba.
For years Dodge had to stand by and watch as the Pontiac GTO started the muscle car era in Detroit and ran away with the sales. The rest of GM's divisions were quick to jump on the muscle car bandwagon. Buick followed with the Gran Sport and even Oldsmobile brought out the 442. Yet Dodge, despite putting out cars that could meet or beat these cars, didn't have a performance image muscle car of their own. Despite a wide array of performance engines, their Coronet's styling and image was conservative. Dodge needed something that would show that they were capable of competing in the muscle car race.
Burt Bouwkamp, the Chief Engineer for Dodge during the 1960s and one of the men behind the genesis of the Charger, related his experience during a speech in July 2004.
"Lynn Townsend was at odds with the Dodge Dealers and wanted to do something to please them. So in 1965 he asked me to come to his office - for the second time. He noted that one of the Dodge Dealer Council requests was for a Barracuda type vehicle. The overall dealer product recommendation theme was the same - we want what Plymouth has. The specific request for a Mustang type vehicle was not as controversial to Lynn. His direction to me was to give them a specialty car but he said 'for God's sake don't make it a derivative of the Barracuda': i.e. don't make it a Barracuda competitor. "So the 1966 Charger was born". "We built a Charger 'idea' car which we displayed at auto shows in 1965 to stimulate market interest in the concept. It was the approved design but we told the press and auto show attendees that it was just an "idea" and that we would build it if they liked it. It was pre-ordained that they would like it."
And like it they did. Enthusiastic reaction clearly indicated that all Dodge had to do was put on practical bumpers and start production.
Carl "CAM'" Cameron would be the exterior designer of Dodge's new flagship vehicle, and on January 1, 1966, viewers of the Rose Bowl were first introduced to the new "Leader of the Dodge Rebellion", the 1966 Charger. The Charger's introduction coincided with the introduction of the new street version of the 426 Hemi. Finally, Dodge would have the performance image to go along with this performance engine.
As the 1966 Charger's features would go, the "electric shaver" grille used fully rotating headlights that when opened or closed made the grille look like one-piece. Inside, the Charger used four individual bucket seats with a full length console from front to rear. The rear seats and console pad also folded forward, and the trunk divider dropped back, which allowed for lots of cargo room inside. Many other things were exclusive to the Charger such as the door panels, courtesy lights and the instrument panel.
The instrument panel was especially interesting as regular bulbs weren't used to light the gauges. Instead four electroluminescent dash pods housed the tachometer, speedometer, alternator, fuel and temperature gauges. In the rear the full length taillight read CHARGER.
The engine selection was all V8s. A six cylinder engine didn't make the option list until 1968. In 1966 four engines were offered; the base-model 318 in³ 2-barrel V8, the truck-sourced 361 in³ 2-barrel, the 383 4-barrel, and the new 426 Street Hemi. The majority of 1966 Chargers were ordered with the 325-hp 383.
Total production in 1966 came to 37,344 units, which was successful for the mid-year introduction.
In 1966 Dodge took the Charger into NASCAR in hopes that the fastback would make their car a winner on the high-banks. But the car proved to have rear end lift around corners which made it very slippery on the faster tracks.
The lift was because the air actually travelled faster over the top of the car than under it, causing the car to act like a giant airplane wing. Drivers would later claim that "it was like driving on ice." In order to solve this problem Dodge installed in a small lip spoiler on the trunk lid which improved traction at speeds above 150 mph. They also had to make it a dealer-installed option in late 1966 and through 1967 because of NASCAR rules (with small quarter panel extensions in 1967). The 1966 Charger was the first US production vehicle to have a spoiler. David Pearson, driving a #6 Cotten Owens-prepared Charger, went on to win the NASCAR Grand National championship in 1966 with 14 first-place finishes.
Since the Charger was such a sales success despite its midyear introduction, changes were limited for 1967. Outside, new fender-mounted turn signals were introduced and would serve as the main outside indentifier between a 1966 and 1967 Charger. A vinyl roof become available as well. Inside, the full length console was gone, due in part to customer complaints about entry and exit from the back seats. It was replaced with a regular sized console, which was also optional as well. Bucket seats were again standard but as an option you could order a folding armrest/seat in place of the console, which allowed three people to sit up front. A column shifter was standard when you ordered this new option.
As for engine options, a new engine was added and an old engine was replaced. The new engine was the 440 "Magnum". The 440 was conservatively rated at 375 hp (280 kW) with a single four barrel. The 361 2-barrel engine was replaced by a 383 2-barrel engine. The 318 2-barrel engine remained, although it was now an LA motor, unlike the 1966 polysphere "poly" design. The 383 4-barrel and the 426 Street Hemi remained as options.
Despite success of the 1966, sales slipped by half. In 1967 only 15,788 Chargers were sold. The fastback craze was over and it was time to completely reinvent Dodge's muscle car for 1968.
It was clear after the sales drop of the 1967 Charger that a restyle was in order. Dodge was going to restyle their entire B-body lineup for 1968 and decided that it was time to separate the Coronet and Charger models even further. What designer Richard Sias came up with was a double-diamond design that would later be referred to as "coke-bottle" styling. From the side profile the curves around the front fenders and rear quarter panels look almost like a Coke bottle. On the roof a "flying buttress" was added to give the rear window area a look similar to that of the 1966 Pontiac GTO.
The Charger retained its full-length hidden headlight grille, but the fully rotating electric headlights had been replaced by a simple vacuum operated cover, similar to the Camaro RS. The full length taillights were gone as well. Instead, dual Corvette-inspired taillights were added. Dual scallops were added to the doors and hood to help accent the new swoopy lines. Inside, the interior shared almost nothing with its first generation brothers. The four bucket seats were gone, the console remained the same as the '67. The tachometer was now optional instead of standard, the trunk and grille medallions were gone, the carpeting in the trunk area was gone, replaced by a vinyl mat, the rear seats did not fold forward and the space-age looking electroluminescent gauges disappeared in favor of a more conventional looking design.
In order to further boost the Charger's muscle car image, a new high-performance package was added, the R/T. This stood for "Road and Track" and would be the high performance badge that would establish Dodge's performance image. Only the high performance cars were allowed to use the R/T badge. The R/T came standard with the previous year's 440 "Magnum". The Slant Six was added to the option list in 1968, but it proved to be a very poor seller. Most people wanted a V8 in their Charger. The rest of the engine lineup (318-2, 383-2, 383-4, 426-8) remained unchanged.
In 1968 Chrysler Corporation unveiled a new ad campaign featuring a Bee with an engine on its back. These cars were called the "Scat Pack". The Coronet R/T, Super Bee, Dart GTS and Charger R/T received bumble-bee stripes (two thin stripes framing two thick stripes). The stripes were standard on the R/Ts and came in red, white or black. They also could be deleted at no cost. These changes and the new Charger body style proved to be very popular with the public and helped to sell 96,100 Chargers, including over 17,000 Charger R/Ts.
A famous Charger was the four-speed, triple-black 1968 Charger R/T used in the movie
Bullitt. The chase scene between Steve McQueen's fastback Mustang GT and the hitmen's Charger R/T is popularly regarded as one of the greatest car chase scenes ever filmed. A similar 1968 Charger R/T was seen in the Blade trilogy of films.
In 1969 not much was changed for the popular Charger. Exterior changes included a new grille with a center divider and new longitudinal taillights. A new trim line called the Special Edition (SE) was added. This could be available by itself or packaged with the R/T, thus making an R/T-SE. The SE added leather inserts to the front seats only, chrome rocker mouldings, a wood grain steering wheel and wood grain inserts on the instrument panel. A sunroof was added to the option list as well, and it would prove to be a very rare option.
The bumble bee stripes returned as well, but were changed slightly. Instead of four stripes it now featured one huge stripe framed by two smaller stripes. In the middle of the stripe an R/T cutout was placed. If the stripe was deleted, then a metal R/T emblem was placed where the R/T cutout was. Total production dropped slightly to around 85,680 units. But in 1969 Dodge had its eye on NASCAR and in order to compete it would have to create two of the most rare and desirable of all Chargers:
Charger 500, and the
The television series The
Dukes of Hazzard featured a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T that was named the
General Lee, often quoted as the most recognizable car in the world. "The General" sported the Confederate flag painted on the roof and the words "GENERAL LEE" over each door. The windows were always open, as the doors were (allegedly) welded shut. The number "01" is painted on both doors. Also, when the horn button was pressed, it played the first 12 notes from the
de facto Confederate States anthem "Dixie Land". The muscle car performed spectacular jumps in almost every episode, and the shows popularity produced a surge of interest in the car. The show itself purchased hundreds of Chargers for stunts, as they generally destroyed at least one car per episode. (Real Chargers stopped being used for jumps at the end of the shows sixth season, and were grudgingly replaced with miniatures.)
In 1969, in order to help Dodge battle Ford/Mercury in NASCAR, two special Chargers were built. The regular production Charger wasn't fast enough to compete with the Ford Torino/Mercury Cyclone. The first year for the Charger 500 was 1969. This car looked like a standard Charger, except that the rear buttress was filled in, and a flush-mounted 1968 Coronet grille was used with exposed headlights. The rear bumble bee stripes would also have a "500" cutout which would help to identify this new Charger. These changes would help the car aerodynamically.
Only 500 copies were built to abide with NASCAR rules--hence the name "Charger 500". The only engine choices were the standard 440 Magnum or the 426 Hemi. Only 67 Charger 500s were built with the Hemi. Despite all of the new changes, Ford/Mercury continued to beat the Chargers. Dodge did not stand idly by. They went back into the wind tunnel and unleashed a new Charger that changed everything.
NASCAR in 1969 stipulated that any car raced in their series had to be available for sale and must build a minimum of five hundred for the general public. Since the Charger 500 was not fast enough, Dodge went back into the wind tunnel and created one of the most outrageous and most sought after Chargers, the 1969 Dodge Charger Daytona.
The Daytona used a pointed nose piece that added 18 inches into the front of the car. This gave the car the down-force that the engineers were looking for, but the rear end still tended to lift at speed. To solve this, they mounted a large wing over the trunk lid which would give the Charger Daytona and its sister car, the 1970 Plymouth Superbird, the nickname of "wing cars".
The wing was 23 inches tall so that the trunk could be open without hitting the bottom of the wing. Slightly modified fenders and a hood from the upcoming 1970 Charger were used on the Daytona. Rear facing scoops were added to the front fenders, right above the tires, which mimicked their NASCAR brothers. But while they looked cool they didn't add any aerodynamic advantage. They were only used to help with tire rub.
Only 503 Charger Daytonas were built with either 440 Magnum or 426 Hemi power. All Daytonas wore red, black, or white bumble stripes that bore the name "Daytona" in the middle of the stripe. The wings were painted the same color as the stripes. The "wing cars" would prove to be so fast and dominating that NASCAR effectively outlawed them for the 1971 season, as a new regulation was introduced that restricted all "aero" cars to a maximum engine displacement of 5.0 L (305 in³), down from the previous 7.0 L (429 in³).
In 1970 the Charger changed slightly again. This would be the last and best year of the 2nd generation Charger and it now featured a large wraparound chrome bumper. On the R/T new rear-facing scoops with the R/T logo were mounted on the front doors, over the door scallops. A new 440 or HEMI hood cutout made the option list for this year only. In order to achieve the desired look, Dodge painted the hood scallop inserts black and put the white engine call-outs on top. New "High Impact" colors were given names, such as Top Banana, Panther Pink, and Plum Crazy.
The 70 Charger was the pinnacle of 2nd generation Chargers combining top performance with a dizzying array of desirable options. The 500 returned for another year, but now it was just a regular production Charger and was not the high performance Charger of 1969. A new engine option made the Charger's list for the first time -- the 440 Six Pack. With three two-barrel carburetors and a rating of 390 hp (291 kW), it was one of the most exotic setups since the cross-ram Max Wedge engines of the early 1960s. The Six Pack was previously used on the mid-year 1969 Dodge Super Bee and Plymouth Road Runner. Despite this hot new engine, production slipped again to 46,576 but most of this was due to the brand new E-body Dodge Challenger.
In 1971, the all-new third generation Charger debuted. It was completely restyled with a new "Pontiac" grille and more rounded "fuselage" body style. Many people have compared the look of the 1971-1974 Chargers to the 1968-1970 Pontiac GTOs. The interiors now looked more like those of the E-body and were now shared by the Plymouth B-body. A rear spoiler and a "Ramcharger" hood made the option lists for the first time. A special scoop was mounted in the hood, directly above the air cleaner. If the driver wanted to put clean air directly into the carburetor, he pulled a small lever under the dash and the scoop popped up. This gimmicky (but novel) device had been used on the Coronet R/T and Super Bees, but this was the first time it was used on the Charger.
Dodge also merged its Coronet and Charger lines. From 1971, all four-door B-bodies were badged as Coronets and all two-door B-bodies as Chargers. This change would add the one-year-only Charger Super Bee to the Charger stable.
The Dodge Super Bee made the move from the Coronet line to the Charger line for 1971 only, then the model was discontinued. Several other models were carried over from 1970, including the 500. However this 500 could be ordered with any engine and was not the high performance model it was in 1969. The R/T and SE versions carried over as well, but the R/T's popularity was on the down-slide thanks to higher insurance costs. Only 63 Hemi versions were built, and 2,659 were built with other engines that year.
Rapidly rising insurance rates, combined with higher gasoline prices, reduced sales of muscle cars and 1971 was the last year of availability for the 426 Hemi "Elephant engine" in any car. 1972 also saw the end of the high-performance 440 Six-Pack engine (although a very small number of 1972 Chargers came with this engine). The 1972 Charger bowed with a new "Rallye" option to replace the former R/T version. The 440 engines were still available, but now had to use the net horsepower rating instead of the gross horsepower rating. This would cause their horsepower ratings to go down substantially, although the net horsepower rating was actually more realistic.
After the 1972 model year no 440 four-speed cars were built, and the use of the pistol-grip 4-speed Hurst shifter was limited to engines of 400 cubic inches. The 1972-1974 Chargers were no longer called performance cars, but were gradually turned into personal luxury cars, because all manufacturers "saw the handwriting on the wall." The end of the muscle car era came to a close, and the 1975 Dodge Charger would be the final nail in the coffin.
The 1975 Dodge Charger would be nothing more than a re-badged Chrysler Cordoba. The Charger SE (Special Edition) was the only model offered. It came with a wide variety engines from the 225 in³ (3.7 L) "Slant Six" to the 400 in³ (6.6 L) big block. The standard engine was the 360 in³ (5.9 L) small block. Sales in 1975 amounted to 30,812.
In 1976 the model range was expanded to four models — base, Charger Sport, Charger SE and the Charger Daytona. The base and Sport models used a different body than the SE and Daytona, and were essentially a rebadging of what had been the 1975 Dodge Coronet 2-door models. The Charger Daytona was introduced in hopes or rekindling the performance fire, but it amounted to little more than a tape/stripe package. It did offer either the 360 small block or the 400 big block. Sales did go up slightly to 65,900 in 1976 but would quickly plummet after that.
In 1977 the base Charger and Charger Sport were dropped (as this body style became part of the newly named B-body Monaco line) and only the Charger SE and Charger Daytona were offered. Sales dropped to 36,204. In 1978 the Charger sold only about 2,800 units and was replaced by a much better seller, the Dodge Magnum.
Speedway (1968) : 1967 Charger
Bullitt (1968) : 1968 Charger R/T
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) : 1969 Charger R/T
Dukes Of Hazzard (2005) 1969 Charger R/T
Truck Turner (1974) : 1974 Charger
Cannonball (1976) : 1968 Charger
Bad Georgia Road (1977) : 1970 Charger
Christine (1983) : 1968 Charger
The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) : 1968 Charger
Blue Velvet (1986) : 1968 Charger
Forever Young (1992) : 1968/69 Charger
Unlawful Entry (1992) : 1971 Charger
The Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) : 1971 Charger Superbee
Spy Hard (1996) : 1968 Charger
Vanishing Point Remake (1997) : 1968 Charger R/T
Blade (1998) : 1968 Charger
ED TV (1999) : 1966 Charger
Best Laid Plans (1999) : 1968 Charger
Payback (1999) : 1974 Charger
The Fast and the Furious (2001) : 1970 Charger
The Forsaken (2001) : 1969 Charger
The Mexican (2001) : 1972? Charger
Blade II (2002) : 1968 Charger
Big Fish (2003) : 1966 Charger
Blade: Trinity (2004) : 1968 Charger
Man on Fire (2004) : 1971? Charger
House of Wax (2005) : 1968 Charger
Banshee (2006) : 1966 Charger
Dukes of Hazzard (1979 to 1985) : 1969 Charger R/T
Vengeance Unlimited (1998) : 1969 Charger
Top Gear (2004: Season 4/Episode 3) : 1968 Charger R/T
NCIS Gibbs is shown driving this car frequently.
Note: Only First, Second & Third generation Dodge Chargers can be found in this section.
Please see our Classic Cars section for the remaining years.